August 25, 2020:

I published an occasional "newsletter", more a very juvenile collection of jokes and puns, called Phillips' Phollies, a rare example on my part of a misspelling being deliberate. I typed it on a Sears portable electric typewriter handed down from my mother's erstwhile college days, and photocopied it at the neighborhood grocery store. The first iteration of my public workbook.

The father of one of the kids owned a print shop, which we toured in fifth or sixth grade. That got my attention. Machines, skilled workers, the smell of ink, and at the end of the process colorful posters or magazine inserts, literally hot off the press. This would have been 1967 ish so I doubt the enterprise was computerized. Most likely it was good ol' old-school, with mechanical type and people with ink on their fingers. I don't remember, but I'm enjoying thinking of it that way.

I raved about it so much that someone bought me a child's toy printing press set which, with lots and lots and lots and lots of very time-consuming labor, could be made to sorta kinda work. It was a round drum which could be fitted with small aluminum trays holding rubber type. You'd set your type — backward, of course — into the trays, fit the trays onto the drum, paint ink onto the type with a brush, feed a sheet of paper into the slot, and turn a mechanical handle on the side of the drum. If you'd done all these steps exactly perfectly you'd get a fairly reasonably attractive single sheet of printed text. I was riveted.

Naturally, it seldom went perfectly. This is grammar school, I have ADHD, my attention span is twenty or thirty seconds. Importantly, this was a toy, fairly cheaply constructed, which tended to jam frequently, depositing a great blob of smudgy ink onto a now useless page. Each cleanly-completed page took many minutes of labor and often several repetitive tries. But I learned to do it the way compositors had done for centuries: print many copies of each page while its type was on the press, before moving on to set up the next page. Collate the pages at the end. An early lesson in the management of efficiency.1

I think the kids liked them. I remember feedback being positive. Honestly, to me that didn't much matter. That I loved doing it was reason enough.

1. In adulthood I read this moving account of a French resistance cell during the Nazi occupation which used a toy print set to produce a vastly more important newsletter. This paragraph is from The Resistance: the French Fight Against the Nazis by Michael Cobb:

The publication that most reflected the material difficulties faced by the Resistance was Valmy, a little newspaper that was produced using a toy printing set. The small group of friends who published Valmy had assembled around 2,000 tiny rubber characters, which they had to set painstakingly in a small block. Each night, 'Paul Simon' (real name Paulin Bertrand) would compose four lines and print them onto each sheet, in an infuriatingly slow process that will be familiar to anyone who played with one of these toys as a child. In 1942 Simon complained, "You try looking on a dark floor for a thin piece of rubber that has sprung out of your tweezers and has bounced some distance from where it fell." The first issue — really more of a leaflet than a newspaper — had a print run of fifty copies and took a month to produce. Although Valmy was extremely amateurish, with corrections handwritten on each copy, in some ways this only made its hostility to the Nazi Occupation more moving. In December 1941 Simon left for London as the police closed in; Valmy continued to appear without him until the beginning of 1943.